Petraeus promotes civil war in Afghanistan July 18, 2010Posted by rogerhollander in Iraq and Afghanistan, War.
Tags: Afghanistan War, Afghanistan, roger hollander, Petraeus, Vietnam War, Karzai, Taliban, nixon, kissinger, answer coalition, mcchrystal, brian becker, james mattis, vietnamization
add a comment
Statement from Brian Becker, National Coordinator of the ANSWER Coalition
Badly losing the war in Afghanistan, Gen. David Petraeus has decided to promote a violent civil war in Afghan villages.
That is the true intent of the new so-called Local Defense Initiatives that Petraeus forced down the throat of Afghanistan’s puppet president Hamid Karzai. The new plan is a variant of the Community Defense Initiative that Gen. Stanley McChrystal tried to impose on Afghanistan after Obama selected him to lead the expanded war effort in 2009.
The Petraeus strategy calls for putting 10,000 job-hungry Afghan villagers on the Pentagon payroll. They will be given money and guns so that they can form militias and shoot and kill other members of their village who are asserted to be either pro-Taliban or opposed to the U.S./NATO occupation.
The new strategy further underscores the criminal role of the Pentagon generals. Petraeus is consciously fomenting civil war and ethnic rivalry just as he did in Iraq. Gen. James Mattis, Petraeus’ new boss at Central Command, when speaking to a crowd in San Diego in 2005 about his experience in Afghanistan, said “it’s a hell of a lot of fun to shoot ‘em.”
President Obama and his military team recognize that it is less damaging at home, where there is almost no support for this endless occupation, to foment civil war in Afghanistan and pay desperate Afghans to slaughter each other as a means of reducing U.S. casualties.
U.S. taxpayers who are experiencing devastating cuts in state and local budgets, layoffs of municipal workers, soaring tuition hikes in public colleges—all because of budget shortfalls—will see billions of their tax dollars go to fund the occupation of Afghanistan and pay the salaries of poor Afghans so that they can shoot other poor Afghans. This is a classic divide-and-conquer tactic used historically by all colonial powers to break up a united resistance by the people whose lands they occupy.
The Obama administration and its generals are borrowing a page from Nixon and Kissinger’s murderous “Vietnamization” plan, which became the announced policy in 1969. Since there was a rising tide of anti-war sentiment at home, Nixon and the Pentagon wanted the Vietnamese to kill each other in greater numbers as a way of diminishing U.S. war dead.
Millions of Vietnamese died during the war, as did 58,000 U.S. service members. The U.S. strategy succeeded in creating an ocean of human suffering, but it failed to alter the outcome. The Vietnamese, like the Afghan people, were unwilling to live under foreign occupation.
ANSWER Coalition organizers and volunteers have in recent months been working around the country to support the growing numbers of soldiers, marines, veterans and military families who are speaking out against the war in Afghanistan. We are reaching more and more active duty service members and recently returned veterans who know that this colonial-type war is based on lies by the politicians and the Pentagon Brass. The ANSWER Coalition affiliate March Forward! is reaching out to soldiers, marines and veterans.
National Office in Washington DC: 202-265-1948
New York City: 212-694-8720
Los Angeles: 213-251-1025
San Francisco: 415-821-6545
US Drone Crew Blamed for Afghan Civilian Deaths May 29, 2010Posted by rogerhollander in Iraq and Afghanistan, War.
Tags: Afghanistan, afghanistan massacre, Afghanistan War, civilian casualties, drone missiles, Karzai, lauren frayer, mcchrystal, predator missiles, roger hollander, war
add a comment
(Roger’s note: Americans, here is what is done in our name (and this is just one incident). We murder 23 Afghani men, women and children. Twenty three innocent lives destroyed, hundreds of family and friends facing an irretrievable loss. Imagine the pain. And what is our response? The man ultimately in charge, President Obama, says nothing. The general in charge of the operation finds the massacre of 23 innocent human beings “heartbreaking.” God knows, the poor guy may have even lost a little sleep over it (but I doubt it). And those who committed the murder? Reprimanded. Reprimanded!!! You kill 23 people and you get REPRIMANDED. This is the American way today. SHAME.)
Lauren Frayer, aol news, May 29, 2010
(May 29) — The U.S. military issued a scathing report today blaming “inaccurate and unprofessional” work by the operators of an unmanned American drone for the deaths of at least 23 Afghan civilians in a botched missile strike earlier this year.
Investigating a February attack on a convoy in Afghanistan’s Uruzgan Province, the military concluded that inexperienced American pilots ignored or downplayed signs that Afghan civilians were in the group of vehicles. At the time, U.S. commanders thought the convoy was ferrying Taliban reinforcements to a nearby village where U.S. Special Forces and Afghan troops were battling militants.
Acting on information provided by the drone operators, attack helicopters fired missiles and rockets into three of the vehicles, destroying them along with nearly two dozen innocent men, women and children.
U.S. troops “failed to provide the ground force commander with the evidence and analysis that the vehicles were not a hostile threat, and the inaccurate and unprofessional reporting of the Predator crew … deprived the ground force commander of vital information,” today’s report said, referring to the so-called Predator drone.
“Information that the convoy was anything other than an attacking force was ignored or downplayed by the Predator crew,” it said. The reports contents were carried by several news agencies.
At least 23 unarmed men, women and children died in the attack, which was the deadliest for Afghan civilians in six months and came at a time when U.S. forces and their allies were boosting efforts to avoid killing civilians. Several high-profile cases of civilians mistakenly killed by American air strikes have undermined NATO’s efforts to win the hearts and minds of local Afghans.
Such strikes made up about 60 percent of the nearly 600 civilians killed by friendly forces in Afghanistan last year, according to the U.N. That figure is much lower than the previous year, reflecting redoubled efforts to avoid civilian casualties.
The Feb. 21 strike prompted a strong rebuke from Afghan President Hamid Karzai, and a quick apology at the time from the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal.
With the report’s release today, McChrystal also issued a statement saying that “inadvertently killing or injuring civilians is heartbreaking” and undermines the Afghan people’s “trust and confidence in our mission.”
“Our most important mission here is to protect the Afghan people,” McChrystal said. “We will do all we can to regain that trust.”
Six U.S. military officers have been reprimanded in the investigation, including a brigade and battalion commander. McChrystal also called on the Air Force to investigate the actions of those who were actually guiding the unmanned Predator remotely from a military base in Nevada.
Today’s report said the civilian convoy first aroused suspicion because it looked like it was being guarded by security men. Two children were spotted near the convoy, but the drone operators failed to report them, relaying information instead that said the convoy carried only military-aged men.
Attack helicopters opened fire, but then held back after seeing brightly-colored clothing in the cars – a sign that women might be present. Afterward, cameras on the drone showed several women and children among the casualties.
But the operation’s commanders failed to report the civilian casualties for nearly 12 hours afterward, the report said.
Tags: Afghanistan, Afghanistan War, civilian casualties, civilian deaths, kandahar, mcchrystal, roger hollander, Taliban
add a comment
(Roger’s note: as Obama’s and McChrystal’s high-tech pawns continue slaughtering Afghani men, women and children, let’s review the question of why the US forces of death are in Afghanistan in the first place. The rationale was unjustified and a violation of international law, but at least there was a rationale. It was that The Taliban, in power at the time in Afghanistan, were protecting Osama bin Laden, presumed author of 9/11. So the US attacked, invaded, defeated the Taliban, put in place a puppet government; and bin Laden and the rest of the al qaeda contingent fled presumably to Pakistan. End of whatever rationale there was in the first place. So why is the US military still there, wreaking havoc? Oh, I forgot, the US is bringing democracy and stability to the country. Killing innocent civilians is a new and creative strategy designed to achieve this end. There is no doubt that it will succeed.)
KABUL – Civilian casualties are rising in Afghanistan as U.S. and NATO reinforcements stream into the country as part of a military buildup to combat the resurgent Taliban, the Interior Ministry said Sunday.
There have been 173 civilian deaths in violence in Afghanistan from March 21 to April 21, marking a 33 percent increase over the same time period last year, the ministry said. A recent quarterly report by the U.S. office overseeing Afghanistan’s rebuilding confirmed an increase in civilian deaths.
The ministry did not provide a breakdown of who was responsible for the fatalities.
Civilian deaths at the hands of U.S. and other international forces are highly sensitive in Afghanistan, although the U.N. says the Taliban are responsible for most civilian casualties. Still, the backlash could undermine U.S. strategy ahead of a summer military operation in Kandahar, a key southern city that is the spiritual home of the Taliban.
The goal of the U.S.-led operation is to flood in troops, rout the militants and rush in new governance and development projects to win the loyalty of Kandahar’s half-million residents.
Public outrage over civilian deaths prompted the top commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal last year to tighten the rules on the use of airstrikes and other weaponry if civilians are at risk.
There are fears the problem could get worse with 30,000 U.S. and NATO reinforcements heading to Afghanistan as part of a military buildup to take on the Taliban in the south.
Several recent operations have sparked protests in Afghanistan.
On Thursday, the French military said its troops mistakenly killed four Afghan civilians and seriously injured one during a clash with insurgents east of Kabul on April 6. On April 20, NATO troops fired on a vehicle that approached their convoy in eastern Afghanistan, killing four unarmed Afghan civilians.
“Preventing Afghan casualties remains our goal despite recent setbacks,” said Lt. Col. Todd Vician, a NATO spokesman in Kabul. He added that military operations have increased this year, with many taking place in population centers.
Also Sunday, a British service member died after an insurgent attack in southern Afghanistan, the Ministry of Defense announced.
On Saturday, NATO said another service member was killed after an “indirect-fire attack” in eastern Afghanistan. The victim’s nationality was not immediately released.
© 2010 Associated Press
War Crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan April 13, 2010Posted by rogerhollander in Iraq and Afghanistan, Uncategorized, War.
Tags: Afghanistan, Afghanistan War, civilian casualties, collateral murder, Iraq, Iraq war, Karzai, mcchrystal, robert dreyfuss, roger hollander, war, War Crimes, wikileaks
add a comment
War crimes, massacres, and, as Al Jazeera properly calls it, “collateral murder,” are all part of the US involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001.
The release last week of the Wikileaks video, thirty-eight grisly minutes long, of US airmen casually slaughtering a dozen Iraqis in 2007 — including two Reuters newsmen — puts it into focus not because it shows us something we didn’t know, but because we can watch it unfold in real time. Real people, flesh and blood, gunned down from above in a hellish rain of fire.
The events in Iraq, nearly three years old, were repeated this week in Afghanistan, when trigger-happy US soldiers slaughtered five Afghans cruising along on a huge, comfortable civilian bus near Kandahar.
As the New York Times reports:
“American troops raked a large passenger bus with gunfire near Kandahar on Monday morning, killing and wounding civilians, and igniting angry anti-American demonstrations in a city where winning over Afghan support is pivotal to the war effort.”
The Kandahar incident is only one of many, of course. Over the past year, dozens of Afghans have similarly died in checkpoint and roadside killings. Not one, not a single one, of these murders involved hostile forces. In other words, when the smoke and dust cleared, in all of the cases over the past year the bodies recovered were those of innocents.
As General McChrystal himself recently said:
“We really ask a lot of our young service people out on checkpoints because there’s danger, they’re asked to make very rapid decisions in often very unclear situations. However, to my knowledge, in the nine-plus months I’ve been here, not a single case where we have engaged in an escalation of force incident and hurt someone has it turned out that the vehicle had a suicide bomb or weapons in it and, in many cases, had families in it.”
My question is: if so, then why aren’t the rules of engagement altered? Why is it that US forces can fire wildly at an approaching vehicle, if in none of the cases that have happened thus far were there hostile forces involved?
In the Iraq case, as revealed in the stunning Wikileaks video, a group of eight men on a Baghdad street, in plain sunlight, is shot to pieces under withering fire from above. Then, when a van carrying four or five other men arrives to pick up a wounded man who is crawling painfully along the gutter, the van too is blasted to smithereens when the airmen request permission to “engage.”
An analysis by Politifact takes apart Secretary of Defense Gates’ callous assertion that the murders were “unfortunate” and “should not have any lasting consequences.” We’ve already investigated this, he said, so what’s the big deal?
The military’s rationale for the slaughter is that US forces a few hundred yards away had taken small arms fire, and so the airmen in the copters circling above concluded that the men they’d seen carrying what they thought were weapons and RPGs — although the “RPG” turned out to be a cameraman’s telephoto lens — were bad guys who could be shot to pieces at will. There was, of course, no evidence at all that the dozen or so Iraqis butchered were involved in what may or may not have been a shooting incident nearby. But, you know — war is hell.
Politifact, to its discredit, defends Gates on these grounds, quoting David Finkel, a Washington Post reporter and author of The Good Soldiers, who writes in blase defense of the slaughter:
“What’s helpful to understand is that, contrary to some interpretations that this was an attack on some people walking down the street on a nice day, the day was anything but that. It happened in the midst of a large operation to clear an area where U.S. soldiers had been getting shot at, injured, and killed with increasing frequency. What the Reuters guys walked into was the very worst part, where the morning had been a series of RPG attacks and running gun battles.”More context. You’re seeing an edited version of the video. The full video runs much longer. And it doesn’t have the benefit of hindsight, in this case zooming in on the van and seeing those two children. The helicopters were perhaps a mile away. And as all of this unfolded, it was unclear to the soldiers involved whether the van was a van of good Samaritans or of insurgents showing up to rescue a wounded comrade. I bring these things up not to excuse the soldiers but to emphasize some of the real-time blurriness of those moments.
“If you were to see the full video, you would see a person carrying an RPG launcher as he walked down the street as part of the group. Another was armed as well, as I recall. Also, if you had the unfortunate luck to be on site afterwards, you would have seen that one of the dead in the group was lying on top of a launcher. Because of that and some other things, EOD — the Hurt Locker guys, I guess — had to come in and secure the site. And again, I’m not trying to excuse what happened. But there was more to it for you to consider than what was in the released video.”
Finkel, who apparently is not going to write a sequel to his book called The Bad Soldiers, cavelierly dismisses the deaths of a dozen Iraqis as something that happens in the “real-time blurriness of those moments.”
In Afghanistan, the repeated killings of innocent civilians has angered an embittered President Karzai, who has strongly and repeatedly condemned the killings of Afghan citizens by American troops. In a Washington Post story today, “Shooting by U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan fuels Karzai’s anger,” the paper reports:
“Twelve days before President Hamid Karzai denounced the behavior of Western countries in Afghanistan, he met a 4-year-old boy at the Tarin Kowt civilian hospital in the south.”The boy had lost his legs in a February airstrike by U.S. Special Operations forces helicopters that killed more than 20 civilians. Karzai scooped him up from his mattress and walked out to the hospital courtyard, according to three witnesses. ‘Who injured you?’ the president asked as helicopters passed overhead. The boy, crying alongside his relatives, pointed at the sky.
“The tears and rage Karzai encountered in that hospital in Uruzgan province lingered with him, according to several aides. It was one provocation amid a string of recent political disappointments that they said has helped fuel the president’s emotional outpouring against the West and prompted a brief crisis in his relations with the United States. It was also a reminder that civilian casualties in Afghanistan have political reverberations far beyond the sites of the killings.”
But I suppose Finkel can justify that one, too.
© 2010 The Nation
Robert Dreyfuss, a Nation contributing editor, is an investigative journalist in Alexandria, Virginia, specializing in politics and national security. He is the author of Devil’s Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam and is a frequent contributor to Rolling Stone, The American Prospect, and Mother Jones.
NATO Airstrike Kills 27 Civilians in Afghanistan February 22, 2010Posted by rogerhollander in Iraq and Afghanistan, War.
Tags: Afghanistan, Afghanistan War, civilian casualties, civilian deaths, jerome starkey, Karzai, mcchrystal, philippe naughton, roger hollander
add a comment
NATO forces in southern Afghanistan bombed a civilian convoy, killing 27 people including women and children and injuring many more, Afghan officials said.
Afghanistan’s cabinet called the attack “unjustifiable” and condemned the raid “in the strongest terms possible”.
Officials said three vehicles were bombed, killing at least 27 people, including four women and one child, while at least 12 others were injured. The death toll had earlier been put at 33.
The cars were traveling between Kandahar and Daikundi, in Afghanistan’s central highlands, when NATO and Afghan forces mistook them for insurgents.
NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said troops on the ground thought the civilians were militants “en route to attack a joint Afghan-Isaf unit” but they later confirmed that there were women and children at the scene and launched an investigation.
The local governor and the interior minister said all of the victims were civilians.
US General Stanley McChrystal, the commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan said he was “extremely saddened”.
“I have made it clear to our forces that we are here to protect the Afghan people, and inadvertently killing or injuring civilians undermines their trust and confidence in our mission,” he said in a statement yesterday. “We will re-double our efforts to regain that trust.”
NATO has been criticized in the past for relying on shoddy intelligence and calling in airstrikes when there is no immediate need.
General McChrystal has urged troops to refrain from using heavy weapons, by showing what he calls “courageous restraint”. On Saturday President Karzai repeated calls for the coalition to eliminate civilian casualties.
“We need to reach the point where there are no civilian casualties,” Mr Karzai said. “Our effort and our criticism will continue until we reach that goal.”
But the last seven days have been anything but peaceful. Last Sunday at least nine civilians were killed when troops involved in Helmand hit a compound with a volley of rockets, during Operation Moshtarak.
On Monday NATO and Afghan forces mistakenly killed five men and injured two others in Kandahar province after deciding that they had been planting a roadside bomb. “The joint patrol called for an airstrike,” Isaf said in a statement. “Following the strike, the Afghan-ISAF patrol approached the scene and determined the individuals had not been emplacing an IED.”
On Thursday, an airstrike in northern Kunduz province missed insurgents and killed seven policemen while on Friday a man carrying a box was shot and killed in Nad-e Ali. “The man dropped the box, turned and ran away from the patrol, and then for an unknown reason turned and ran toward the patrol at which time they shot and killed him,” NATO said in a statement. “After a search of the individual it was determined the box, which appeared to be filled with IED-making materials, was not an IED.”
In December NATO was accused of killing 10 civilians, including eight schoolchildren, in Narang district in Kunar. NATO claimed they were part of a bomb-making cell.
Yesterday’s civilian deaths come as a further blow to the Western effort in Afghanistan after the Dutch Prime Minister conceded that he could not prevent his forces being pulled out this year due to the collapse of his Government.
Jan Peter Balkenende lost the argument over extending the deployment at a 16-hour Cabinet session, in the first big reversal for the recently appointed NATO leader, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who had publicly requested a continued Dutch commitment.
“Our task as the lead nation [in Uruzgan province] ends in August,” Mr Balkenende said. After a three-month draw-down, the Dutch will be completely out of Afghanistan by the end of the year.
There are concerns that other countries where public opinion is turning against the Afghan campaign could follow, notably Canada, which has had the biggest proportional casualty rate and is committed to withdrawing its 2,800 troops by the end of next year.
Another concern is the continued presence of 1,000 Australian troops. The Canberra Government has repeatedly refused to take over the lead role in Uruzgan if Holland leaves, demanding that a big NATO power provide the main share of troop numbers.
Just as important is the impression that European countries are struggling to find their share of the 10,000 extra troops requested by General McChrystal to join 30,000 extra US troops in Afghanistan, with France ruling out more forces and a fierce debate in Germany.
The Times understands that the Dutch forces in Uruzgan will be replaced by US troops, diverting them from the surge operation against the Taliban.
NATO rockets kill 12 Afghan civilians February 14, 2010Posted by rogerhollander in Iraq and Afghanistan, War.
Tags: Afghanistan, afghnaistan war, alfred de montesquiou, civilian casualties, hearts and minds, helmand, Karzai, marjah, mcchrystal, NATO, roger hollander, Taliban
add a comment
(Roger’s note: the US army and the armies of the British, Canadians, and other NATO lackeys of the US government are INVADING ARMIES. They will never “win the hearts and minds” of the Afghani peoples because they are there to conquer and destroy, control oil pipelines (and make huge profits for US war profiteers). It does not take the brain of a nuclear scientist to realize this. The Obamas and Clintons and Gordon Browns and Stephen Harpers who are prosecuting this war are nothing less than international outlaws. McChrystal’s hollow apology for the massacre of ten Afghan civilians is a travesty. “When will they ever learn …?”)
Alfred De Montesquiou The Associated Press
MARJAH, AFGHANISTAN—Twelve Afghans died Sunday when two rockets fired at insurgents missed their target and struck a house during the second day of NATO’s most ambitious effort yet to break the militants’ grip on the country’s dangerous south.
Thousands of NATO and Afghan troops encountered pockets of resistance, fighting off sniper attacks, as they moved deeper into Marjah, a town of 80,000 people that is the linchpin of the militants’ logistical and opium-smuggling network in Helmand province.
Marines and Afghan troops used metal detectors and sniffer dogs, searching compound to compound for explosives rigged to explode. Blasts from controlled detonations could be heard about every 10 minutes north of Marjah.
Afghan and international troops want to secure the area, set up a local government and rush in development aid in what is seen as the first test of the new U.S. strategy for turning the tide of the 8-year-old war. The civilian deaths were a blow to NATO and the Afghan government’s attempts to win the allegiance of Afghans and get them to turn away from the insurgents.
NATO said two rockets from a High Mobility Artillery Rocket System were aimed at insurgents firing on Afghan and NATO forces, but stuck 1,000 feet (300 metres) off their intended target.
“We deeply regret this tragic loss of life,” said Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top commander in Afghanistan. “The current operation in central Helmand is aimed at restoring security and stability to this vital area of Afghanistan. It’s regrettable that in the course of our joint efforts, innocent lives were lost.”
McChrystal said he had apologized to Afghan President Hamid Karzai for the accident and had suspended the use of the rocket system until the incident can be reviewed.
Karzai issued a statement minutes earlier saying 10 members of the same family died when the rocket hit a house in Marjah. He ordered an investigation into who fired the rocket. Before the offensive began on Saturday, Karzai pleaded with Afghan and foreign military leaders to be “seriously careful for the safety of civilians.”
On the first day of the offensive, NATO reported two troop casualties — an American and a Briton. Afghan officials said at least 27 insurgents have been killed in the operation.
The offensive, called “Moshtarak,” or “Together,” is the biggest joint operation since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan, with 15,000 troops involved, including some 7,500 in Marjah itself. Most of the NATO forces taking part are American or British.
Between 400 and 1,000 insurgents — including more than 100 foreign fighters — were believed to be holed up in Marjah.
“We’re in the majority of the city at this point,” said Lt. Josh Diddams, a Marine spokesman. He said the nature of the resistance has changed from the initial assault, with insurgents now holding ground in some neighbourhoods.
“We’re starting to come across areas where the insurgents have actually taken up defensive positions,” he said. “Initially it was more hit and run.”
It could take weeks to completely reclaim Marjah, according to Brig. Gen. Larry Nicholson, a top Marine commander in the south.
“That doesn’t necessarily mean an intense gun battle, but it probably will be 30 days of clearing,” Nicholson said. “I am more than cautiously optimistic that we will get it done before that.”
Sniper fire forced Nicholson to duck behind an earthen bank in the northern part of the town where he toured the tip of the Marines’ front line held by Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines.
“The fire we just took reflects how I think this will go — small pockets of sporadic fighting by small groups of very mobile individuals,” he said.
He said insurgents riddled the area with explosives. “We thought there would be a lot,” he said, “but we are finding even more than expected.”
NATO forces uncovered 250 kilograms (550 pounds) of ammonium nitrate and other bomb-making materials while clearing a compound in Marjah, a coalition statement said. They also found a weapons cache in Nad Ali, which lies to the north, that included artillery rounds, pressure plates and blasting caps.
The United Nations said an estimated 900 families had fled the Marjah area and were registered for emergency assistance in the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah, about 20 miles (32 kilometres) away.
At least two shuras, or council meetings, have already been held with local residents — one in Nad Ali and the other in Marjah itself, NATO said in a statement. Discussions have been “good,” and more are planned in coming days as part of a larger strategy to enlist community support for the NATO mission, it said.
In Marjah, most of the Marines said they would have preferred a straight-up gunbattle to the “death at every corner” crawl they faced as they made their way through the town.
“Basically, if you hear the boom, it’s good. It means you’re still alive after the thing goes off,” said Lance Corp. Justin Hennes, 22, of Lakeland, Florida.
Local Marjah residents crept out from hiding after dawn Sunday, some reaching out to Afghan troops partnered with Marine platoons.
“Could you please take the mines out?” Mohammad Kazeem, a local pharmacist, asked the Marines through an interpreter. The entrance to his shop had been completely booby-trapped, without any way for him to re-enter his home, he said.
Tags: afghan mission, afghan strategy, Afghanistan, afghanistan surge, Afghanistan War, congress, Dennis Kucinich, generals, jordan fabian, mcchrystal, Obama, president obama, roger hollander, war, war powers
add a comment
by Jordan Fabian
Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) this week said that U.S. generals who spoke publicly about the nation’s Afghan strategy during the president’s deliberations should lose their jobs.
Kucinich, who is known for his anti-war views, told Russia Today in an interview Wednesday that Congress should be making the final decision on whether to go to war, not the president or his generals.
“Some of his generals made remarks publicly, which is really unheard of,” he said. “You know, generals are subordinate to the president who is the commander-in-chief. He’s the boss. And when generals start trying to suggest publicly what the president should do, they shouldn’t be generals anymore.”
Kucinich’s comments come weeks after he introduced a resolution in Congress calling for American forces to withdraw from the war-torn country.
U.S. and NATO commanding Gen. Stanley McChrystal was known for speaking publicly about the need for more troops in Afghanistan. The top general in the country made several media appearances after it was reported that he requested that President Barack Obama send 40,000 additional troops or face “mission failure.”
McChrystal’s words came as Obama and the nation’s top military and diplomatic officials weighed a new strategy behind closed doors for months. Obama announced on Dec. 1 that 30,000 additional troops will be sent to Afghanistan and U.S. forces will begin to withdraw in July 2011.
Kucinich blamed Obama for the the generals’ willingness to speak out, saying that he gave them too much leeway.
“President Obama, who is a good man, has given his generals a little too much leeway,” he said. “Congress has the obligation under our constitution to make the decision whether to go to war.”
Blackwater’s Secret War in Pakistan November 24, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Pakistan, War.
Tags: al-Qaeda, bagram, bagram air base, bin Laden, Blackwater, christina rocca, cia, counterterrorism, Dick Cheney, drone missiles, erik prince, geneva convention, jeremy scahill, jsoc, kestral, kestral logistics, lawrence wilkerson, leon paneta, mcchrystal, mercenaries, military contractors, military intelligence, mullah mohammed omar, pakistan, pakistan war, pakistani government, paramilitaries, paramilitary, predator missiles, roger hollander, roger noriega, rumsfeld, secret war, select, Taliban, the nation, tis, total inteligence, vision americas, xe, xe services
add a comment
The Nation, November 23, 2009
At a covert forward operating base run by the US Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) in the Pakistani port city of Karachi, members of an elite division of Blackwater are at the center of a secret program in which they plan targeted assassinations of suspected Taliban and Al Qaeda operatives, “snatch and grabs” of high-value targets and other sensitive action inside and outside Pakistan, an investigation by The Nation has found. The Blackwater operatives also assist in gathering intelligence and help direct a secret US military drone bombing campaign that runs parallel to the well-documented CIA predator strikes, according to a well-placed source within the US military intelligence apparatus.
The source, who has worked on covert US military programs for years, including in Afghanistan and Pakistan, has direct knowledge of Blackwater’s involvement. He spoke to The Nation on condition of anonymity because the program is classified. The source said that the program is so “compartmentalized” that senior figures within the Obama administration and the US military chain of command may not be aware of its existence.
The White House did not return calls or email messages seeking comment for this story. Capt. John Kirby, the spokesperson for Adm. Michael Mullen, Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told The Nation, “We do not discuss current operations one way or the other, regardless of their nature.” A defense official, on background, specifically denied that Blackwater performs work on drone strikes or intelligence for JSOC in Pakistan. “We don’t have any contracts to do that work for us. We don’t contract that kind of work out, period,” the official said. “There has not been, and is not now, contracts between JSOC and that organization for these types of services.”
The previously unreported program, the military intelligence source said, is distinct from the CIA assassination program that the agency’s director, Leon Panetta, announced he had canceled in June 2009. “This is a parallel operation to the CIA,” said the source. “They are two separate beasts.” The program puts Blackwater at the epicenter of a US military operation within the borders of a nation against which the United States has not declared war–knowledge that could further strain the already tense relations between the United States and Pakistan. In 2006, the United States and Pakistan struck a deal that authorized JSOC to enter Pakistan to hunt Osama bin Laden with the understanding that Pakistan would deny it had given permission. Officially, the United States is not supposed to have any active military operations in the country.
Blackwater, which recently changed its name to Xe Services and US Training Center, denies the company is operating in Pakistan. “Xe Services has only one employee in Pakistan performing construction oversight for the U.S. Government,” Blackwater spokesperson Mark Corallo said in a statement to The Nation, adding that the company has “no other operations of any kind in Pakistan.”
A former senior executive at Blackwater confirmed the military intelligence source’s claim that the company is working in Pakistan for the CIA and JSOC, the premier counterterrorism and covert operations force within the military. He said that Blackwater is also working for the Pakistani government on a subcontract with an Islamabad-based security firm that puts US Blackwater operatives on the ground with Pakistani forces in counter-terrorism operations, including house raids and border interdictions, in the North-West Frontier Province and elsewhere in Pakistan. This arrangement, the former executive said, allows the Pakistani government to utilize former US Special Operations forces who now work for Blackwater while denying an official US military presence in the country. He also confirmed that Blackwater has a facility in Karachi and has personnel deployed elsewhere in Pakistan. The former executive spoke on condition of anonymity.
His account and that of the military intelligence source were borne out by a US military source who has knowledge of Special Forces actions in Pakistan and Afghanistan. When asked about Blackwater’s covert work for JSOC in Pakistan, this source, who also asked for anonymity, told The Nation, “From my information that I have, that is absolutely correct,” adding, “There’s no question that’s occurring.”
“It wouldn’t surprise me because we’ve outsourced nearly everything,” said Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, who served as Secretary of State Colin Powell’s chief of staff from 2002 to 2005, when told of Blackwater’s role in Pakistan. Wilkerson said that during his time in the Bush administration, he saw the beginnings of Blackwater’s involvement with the sensitive operations of the military and CIA. “Part of this, of course, is an attempt to get around the constraints the Congress has placed on DoD. If you don’t have sufficient soldiers to do it, you hire civilians to do it. I mean, it’s that simple. It would not surprise me.”
The Counterterrorism Tag Team in Karachi
The covert JSOC program with Blackwater in Pakistan dates back to at least 2007, according to the military intelligence source. The current head of JSOC is Vice Adm. William McRaven, who took over the post from Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who headed JSOC from 2003 to 2008 before being named the top US commander in Afghanistan. Blackwater’s presence in Pakistan is “not really visible, and that’s why nobody has cracked down on it,” said the source. Blackwater’s operations in Pakistan, he said, are not done through State Department contracts or publicly identified Defense contracts. “It’s Blackwater via JSOC, and it’s a classified no-bid [contract] approved on a rolling basis.” The main JSOC/Blackwater facility in Karachi, according to the source, is nondescript: three trailers with various generators, satellite phones and computer systems are used as a makeshift operations center. “It’s a very rudimentary operation,” says the source. “I would compare it to [CIA] outposts in Kurdistan or any of the Special Forces outposts. It’s very bare bones, and that’s the point.”
Blackwater’s work for JSOC in Karachi is coordinated out of a Task Force based at Bagram Air Base in neighboring Afghanistan, according to the military intelligence source. While JSOC technically runs the operations in Karachi, he said, it is largely staffed by former US special operations soldiers working for a division of Blackwater, once known as Blackwater SELECT, and intelligence analysts working for a Blackwater affiliate, Total Intelligence Solutions (TIS), which is owned by Blackwater’s founder, Erik Prince. The military source said that the name Blackwater SELECT may have been changed recently. Total Intelligence, which is run out of an office on the ninth floor of a building in the Ballston area of Arlington, Virginia, is staffed by former analysts and operatives from the CIA, DIA, FBI and other agencies. It is modeled after the CIA’s counterterrorism center. In Karachi, TIS runs a “media-scouring/open-source network,” according to the source. Until recently, Total Intelligence was run by two former top CIA officials, Cofer Black and Robert Richer, both of whom have left the company. In Pakistan, Blackwater is not using either its original name or its new moniker, Xe Services, according to the former Blackwater executive. “They are running most of their work through TIS because the other two [names] have such a stain on them,” he said. Corallo, the Blackwater spokesperson, denied that TIS or any other division or affiliate of Blackwater has any personnel in Pakistan.
The US military intelligence source said that Blackwater’s classified contracts keep getting renewed at the request of JSOC. Blackwater, he said, is already so deeply entrenched that it has become a staple of the US military operations in Pakistan. According to the former Blackwater executive, “The politics that go with the brand of BW is somewhat set aside because what you’re doing is really one military guy to another.” Blackwater’s first known contract with the CIA for operations in Afghanistan was awarded in 2002 and was for work along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
One of the concerns raised by the military intelligence source is that some Blackwater personnel are being given rolling security clearances above their approved clearances. Using Alternative Compartmentalized Control Measures (ACCMs), he said, the Blackwater personnel are granted clearance to a Special Access Program, the bureaucratic term used to describe highly classified “black” operations. “With an ACCM, the security manager can grant access to you to be exposed to and operate within compartmentalized programs far above ‘secret’–even though you have no business doing so,” said the source. It allows Blackwater personnel that “do not have the requisite security clearance or do not hold a security clearance whatsoever to participate in classified operations by virtue of trust,” he added. “Think of it as an ultra-exclusive level above top secret. That’s exactly what it is: a circle of love.” Blackwater, therefore, has access to “all source” reports that are culled in part from JSOC units in the field. “That’s how a lot of things over the years have been conducted with contractors,” said the source. “We have contractors that regularly see things that top policy-makers don’t unless they ask.”
According to the source, Blackwater has effectively marketed itself as a company whose operatives have “conducted lethal direct action missions and now, for a price, you can have your own planning cell. JSOC just ate that up,” he said, adding, “They have a sizable force in Pakistan–not for any nefarious purpose if you really want to look at it that way–but to support a legitimate contract that’s classified for JSOC.” Blackwater’s Pakistan JSOC contracts are secret and are therefore shielded from public oversight, he said. The source is not sure when the arrangement with JSOC began, but he says that a spin-off of Blackwater SELECT “was issued a no-bid contract for support to shooters for a JSOC Task Force and they kept extending it.” Some of the Blackwater personnel, he said, work undercover as aid workers. “Nobody even gives them a second thought.”
The military intelligence source said that the Blackwater/JSOC Karachi operation is referred to as “Qatar cubed,” in reference to the US forward operating base in Qatar that served as the hub for the planning and implementation of the US invasion of Iraq. “This is supposed to be the brave new world,” he says. “This is the Jamestown of the new millennium and it’s meant to be a lily pad. You can jump off to Uzbekistan, you can jump back over the border, you can jump sideways, you can jump northwest. It’s strategically located so that they can get their people wherever they have to without having to wrangle with the military chain of command in Afghanistan, which is convoluted. They don’t have to deal with that because they’re operating under a classified mandate.”
In addition to planning drone strikes and operations against suspected Al Qaeda and Taliban forces in Pakistan for both JSOC and the CIA, the Blackwater team in Karachi also helps plan missions for JSOC inside Uzbekistan against the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, according to the military intelligence source. Blackwater does not actually carry out the operations, he said, which are executed on the ground by JSOC forces. “That piqued my curiosity and really worries me because I don’t know if you noticed but I was never told we are at war with Uzbekistan,” he said. “So, did I miss something, did Rumsfeld come back into power?”
Pakistan’s Military Contracting Maze
Blackwater, according to the military intelligence source, is not doing the actual killing as part of its work in Pakistan. “The SELECT personnel are not going into places with private aircraft and going after targets,” he said. “It’s not like Blackwater SELECT people are running around assassinating people.” Instead, US Special Forces teams carry out the plans developed in part by Blackwater. The military intelligence source drew a distinction between the Blackwater operatives who work for the State Department, which he calls “Blackwater Vanilla,” and the seasoned Special Forces veterans who work on the JSOC program. “Good or bad, there’s a small number of people who know how to pull off an operation like that. That’s probably a good thing,” said the source. “It’s the Blackwater SELECT people that have and continue to plan these types of operations because they’re the only people that know how and they went where the money was. It’s not trigger-happy fucks, like some of the PSD [Personal Security Detail] guys. These are not people that believe that Barack Obama is a socialist, these are not people that kill innocent civilians. They’re very good at what they do.”
The former Blackwater executive, when asked for confirmation that Blackwater forces were not actively killing people in Pakistan, said, “that’s not entirely accurate.” While he concurred with the military intelligence source’s description of the JSOC and CIA programs, he pointed to another role Blackwater is allegedly playing in Pakistan, not for the US government but for Islamabad. According to the executive, Blackwater works on a subcontract for Kestral Logistics, a powerful Pakistani firm, which specializes in military logistical support, private security and intelligence consulting. It is staffed with former high-ranking Pakistani army and government officials. While Kestral’s main offices are in Pakistan, it also has branches in several other countries.
A spokesperson for the US State Department’s Directorate of Defense Trade Controls (DDTC), which is responsible for issuing licenses to US corporations to provide defense-related services to foreign governments or entities, would neither confirm nor deny for The Nation that Blackwater has a license to work in Pakistan or to work with Kestral. “We cannot help you,” said department spokesperson David McKeeby after checking with the relevant DDTC officials. “You’ll have to contact the companies directly.” Blackwater’s Corallo said the company has “no operations of any kind” in Pakistan other than the one employee working for the DoD. Kestral did not respond to inquiries from The Nation.
According to federal lobbying records, Kestral recently hired former Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roger Noriega, who served in that post from 2003 to 2005, to lobby the US government, including the State Department, USAID and Congress, on foreign affairs issues “regarding [Kestral's] capabilities to carry out activities of interest to the United States.” Noriega was hired through his firm, Vision Americas, which he runs with Christina Rocca, a former CIA operations official who served as assistant secretary of state for South Asian affairs from 2001 to 2006 and was deeply involved in shaping US policy toward Pakistan. In October 2009, Kestral paid Vision Americas $15,000 and paid a Vision Americas-affiliated firm, Firecreek Ltd., an equal amount to lobby on defense and foreign policy issues.
For years, Kestral has done a robust business in defense logistics with the Pakistani government and other nations, as well as top US defense companies. Blackwater owner Erik Prince is close with Kestral CEO Liaquat Ali Baig, according to the former Blackwater executive. “Ali and Erik have a pretty close relationship,” he said. “They’ve met many times and struck a deal, and they [offer] mutual support for one another.” Working with Kestral, he said, Blackwater has provided convoy security for Defense Department shipments destined for Afghanistan that would arrive in the port at Karachi. Blackwater, according to the former executive, would guard the supplies as they were transported overland from Karachi to Peshawar and then west through the Torkham border crossing, the most important supply route for the US military in Afghanistan.
According to the former executive, Blackwater operatives also integrate with Kestral’s forces in sensitive counterterrorism operations in the North-West Frontier Province, where they work in conjunction with the Pakistani Interior Ministry’s paramilitary force, known as the Frontier Corps (alternately referred to as “frontier scouts”). The Blackwater personnel are technically advisers, but the former executive said that the line often gets blurred in the field. Blackwater “is providing the actual guidance on how to do [counterterrorism operations] and Kestral’s folks are carrying a lot of them out, but they’re having the guidance and the overwatch from some BW guys that will actually go out with the teams when they’re executing the job,” he said. “You can see how that can lead to other things in the border areas.” He said that when Blackwater personnel are out with the Pakistani teams, sometimes its men engage in operations against suspected terrorists. “You’ve got BW guys that are assisting… and they’re all going to want to go on the jobs–so they’re going to go with them,” he said. “So, the things that you’re seeing in the news about how this Pakistani military group came in and raided this house or did this or did that–in some of those cases, you’re going to have Western folks that are right there at the house, if not in the house.” Blackwater, he said, is paid by the Pakistani government through Kestral for consulting services. “That gives the Pakistani government the cover to say, ‘Hey, no, we don’t have any Westerners doing this. It’s all local and our people are doing it.’ But it gets them the expertise that Westerners provide for [counterterrorism]-related work.”
The military intelligence source confirmed Blackwater works with the Frontier Corps, saying, “There’s no real oversight. It’s not really on people’s radar screen.”
In October, in response to Pakistani news reports that a Kestral warehouse in Islamabad was being used to store heavy weapons for Blackwater, the US Embassy in Pakistan released a statement denying the weapons were being used by “a private American security contractor.” The statement said, “Kestral Logistics is a private logistics company that handles the importation of equipment and supplies provided by the United States to the Government of Pakistan. All of the equipment and supplies were imported at the request of the Government of Pakistan, which also certified the shipments.”
Who is Behind the Drone Attacks?
Since President Barack Obama was inaugurated, the United States has expanded drone bombing raids in Pakistan. Obama first ordered a drone strike against targets in North and South Waziristan on January 23, and the strikes have been conducted consistently ever since. The Obama administration has now surpassed the number of Bush-era strikes in Pakistan and has faced fierce criticism from Pakistan and some US lawmakers over civilian deaths. A drone attack in June killed as many as sixty people attending a Taliban funeral.
In August, the New York Times reported that Blackwater works for the CIA at “hidden bases in Pakistan and Afghanistan, where the company’s contractors assemble and load Hellfire missiles and 500-pound laser-guided bombs on remotely piloted Predator aircraft.” In February, The Times of London obtained a satellite image of a secret CIA airbase in Shamsi, in Pakistan’s southwestern province of Baluchistan, showing three drone aircraft. The New York Times also reported that the agency uses a secret base in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, to strike in Pakistan.
The military intelligence source says that the drone strike that reportedly killed Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, his wife and his bodyguards in Waziristan in August was a CIA strike, but that many others attributed in media reports to the CIA are actually JSOC strikes. “Some of these strikes are attributed to OGA [Other Government Agency, intelligence parlance for the CIA], but in reality it’s JSOC and their parallel program of UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles] because they also have access to UAVs. So when you see some of these hits, especially the ones with high civilian casualties, those are almost always JSOC strikes.” The Pentagon has stated bluntly, “There are no US military strike operations being conducted in Pakistan.”
The military intelligence source also confirmed that Blackwater continues to work for the CIA on its drone bombing program in Pakistan, as previously reported in the New York Times, but added that Blackwater is working on JSOC’s drone bombings as well. “It’s Blackwater running the program for both CIA and JSOC,” said the source. When civilians are killed, “people go, ‘Oh, it’s the CIA doing crazy shit again unchecked.’ Well, at least 50 percent of the time, that’s JSOC [hitting] somebody they’ve identified through HUMINT [human intelligence] or they’ve culled the intelligence themselves or it’s been shared with them and they take that person out and that’s how it works.”
The military intelligence source says that the CIA operations are subject to Congressional oversight, unlike the parallel JSOC bombings. “Targeted killings are not the most popular thing in town right now and the CIA knows that,” he says. “Contractors and especially JSOC personnel working under a classified mandate are not [overseen by Congress], so they just don’t care. If there’s one person they’re going after and there’s thirty-four people in the building, thirty-five people are going to die. That’s the mentality.” He added, “They’re not accountable to anybody and they know that. It’s an open secret, but what are you going to do, shut down JSOC?”
In addition to working on covert action planning and drone strikes, Blackwater SELECT also provides private guards to perform the sensitive task of security for secret US drone bases, JSOC camps and Defense Intelligence Agency camps inside Pakistan, according to the military intelligence source.
Mosharraf Zaidi, a well-known Pakistani journalist who has served as a consultant for the UN and European Union in Pakistan and Afghanistan, says that the Blackwater/JSOC program raises serious questions about the norms of international relations. “The immediate question is, How do you define the active pursuit of military objectives in a country with which not only have you not declared war but that is supposedly a front-line non-NATO ally in the US struggle to contain extremist violence coming out of Afghanistan and the border regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan?” asks Zaidi, who is currently a columnist for The News, the biggest English-language daily in Pakistan. “Let’s forget Blackwater for a second. What this is confirming is that there are US military operations in Pakistan that aren’t about logistics or getting food to Bagram; that are actually about the exercise of physical violence, physical force inside of Pakistani territory.”
JSOC: Rumsfeld and Cheney’s Extra Special Force
Colonel Wilkerson said that he is concerned that with General McChrystal’s elevation as the military commander of the Afghan war–which is increasingly seeping into Pakistan–there is a concomitant rise in JSOC’s power and influence within the military structure. “I don’t see how you can escape that; it’s just a matter of the way the authority flows and the power flows, and it’s inevitable, I think,” Wilkerson told The Nation. He added, “I’m alarmed when I see execute orders and combat orders that go out saying that the supporting force is Central Command and the supported force is Special Operations Command,” under which JSOC operates. “That’s backward. But that’s essentially what we have today.”
From 2003 to 2008 McChrystal headed JSOC, which is headquartered at Pope Air Force Base and Fort Bragg in North Carolina, where Blackwater’s 7,000-acre operating base is also situated. JSOC controls the Army’s Delta Force, the Navy’s SEAL Team 6, as well as the Army’s 75th Ranger Regiment and 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, and the Air Force’s 24th Special Tactics Squadron. JSOC performs strike operations, reconnaissance in denied areas and special intelligence missions. Blackwater, which was founded by former Navy SEALs, employs scores of veteran Special Forces operators–which several former military officials pointed to as the basis for Blackwater’s alleged contracts with JSOC.
Since 9/11, many top-level Special Forces veterans have taken up employment with private firms, where they can make more money doing the highly specialized work they did in uniform. “The Blackwater individuals have the experience. A lot of these individuals are retired military, and they’ve been around twenty to thirty years and have experience that the younger Green Beret guys don’t,” said retired Army Lieut. Col. Jeffrey Addicott, a well-connected military lawyer who served as senior legal counsel for US Army Special Forces. “They’re known entities. Everybody knows who they are, what their capabilities are, and they’ve got the experience. They’re very valuable.”
“They make much more money being the smarts of these operations, planning hits in various countries and basing it off their experience in Chechnya, Bosnia, Somalia, Ethiopia,” said the military intelligence source. “They were there for all of these things, they know what the hell they’re talking about. And JSOC has unfortunately lost the institutional capability to plan within, so they hire back people that used to work for them and had already planned and executed these [types of] operations. They hired back people that jumped over to Blackwater SELECT and then pay them exorbitant amounts of money to plan future operations. It’s a ridiculous revolving door.”
While JSOC has long played a central role in US counterterrorism and covert operations, military and civilian officials who worked at the Defense and State Departments during the Bush administration described in interviews with The Nation an extremely cozy relationship that developed between the executive branch (primarily through Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld) and JSOC. During the Bush era, Special Forces turned into a virtual stand-alone operation that acted outside the military chain of command and in direct coordination with the White House. Throughout the Bush years, it was largely General McChrystal who ran JSOC. “What I was seeing was the development of what I would later see in Iraq and Afghanistan, where Special Operations forces would operate in both theaters without the conventional commander even knowing what they were doing,” said Colonel Wilkerson. “That’s dangerous, that’s very dangerous. You have all kinds of mess when you don’t tell the theater commander what you’re doing.”
Wilkerson said that almost immediately after assuming his role at the State Department under Colin Powell, he saw JSOC being politicized and developing a close relationship with the executive branch. He saw this begin, he said, after his first Delta Force briefing at Fort Bragg. “I think Cheney and Rumsfeld went directly into JSOC. I think they went into JSOC at times, perhaps most frequently, without the SOCOM [Special Operations] commander at the time even knowing it. The receptivity in JSOC was quite good,” says Wilkerson. “I think Cheney was actually giving McChrystal instructions, and McChrystal was asking him for instructions.” He said the relationship between JSOC and Cheney and Rumsfeld “built up initially because Rumsfeld didn’t get the responsiveness. He didn’t get the can-do kind of attitude out of the SOCOM commander, and so as Rumsfeld was wont to do, he cut him out and went straight to the horse’s mouth. At that point you had JSOC operating as an extension of the [administration] doing things the executive branch–read: Cheney and Rumsfeld–wanted it to do. This would be more or less carte blanche. You need to do it, do it. It was very alarming for me as a conventional soldier.”
Wilkerson said the JSOC teams caused diplomatic problems for the United States across the globe. “When these teams started hitting capital cities and other places all around the world, [Rumsfeld] didn’t tell the State Department either. The only way we found out about it is our ambassadors started to call us and say, ‘Who the hell are these six-foot-four white males with eighteen-inch biceps walking around our capital cities?’ So we discovered this, we discovered one in South America, for example, because he actually murdered a taxi driver, and we had to get him out of there real quick. We rendered him–we rendered him home.”
As part of their strategy, Rumsfeld and Cheney also created the Strategic Support Branch (SSB), which pulled intelligence resources from the Defense Intelligence Agency and the CIA for use in sensitive JSOC operations. The SSB was created using “reprogrammed” funds “without explicit congressional authority or appropriation,” according to the Washington Post. The SSB operated outside the military chain of command and circumvented the CIA’s authority on clandestine operations. Rumsfeld created it as part of his war to end “near total dependence on CIA.” Under US law, the Defense Department is required to report all deployment orders to Congress. But guidelines issued in January 2005 by former Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Stephen Cambone stated that Special Operations forces may “conduct clandestine HUMINT operations…before publication” of a deployment order. This effectively gave Rumsfeld unilateral control over clandestine operations.
The military intelligence source said that when Rumsfeld was defense secretary, JSOC was deployed to commit some of the “darkest acts” in part to keep them concealed from Congress. “Everything can be justified as a military operation versus a clandestine intelligence performed by the CIA, which has to be informed to Congress,” said the source. “They were aware of that and they knew that, and they would exploit it at every turn and they took full advantage of it. They knew they could act extra-legally and nothing would happen because A, it was sanctioned by DoD at the highest levels, and B, who was going to stop them? They were preparing the battlefield, which was on all of the PowerPoints: ‘Preparing the Battlefield.’”
The significance of the flexibility of JSOC’s operations inside Pakistan versus the CIA’s is best summed up by Senator Dianne Feinstein, chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. “Every single intelligence operation and covert action must be briefed to the Congress,” she said. “If they are not, that is a violation of the law.”
Blackwater: Company Non Grata in Pakistan
For months, the Pakistani media has been flooded with stories about Blackwater’s alleged growing presence in the country. For the most part, these stories have been ignored by the US press and denounced as lies or propaganda by US officials in Pakistan. But the reality is that, although many of the stories appear to be wildly exaggerated, Pakistanis have good reason to be concerned about Blackwater’s operations in their country. It is no secret in Washington or Islamabad that Blackwater has been a central part of the wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan and that the company has been involved–almost from the beginning of the “war on terror”–with clandestine US operations. Indeed, Blackwater is accepting applications for contractors fluent in Urdu and Punjabi. The US Ambassador to Pakistan, Anne Patterson, has denied Blackwater’s presence in the country, stating bluntly in September, “Blackwater is not operating in Pakistan.” In her trip to Pakistan in October, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton dodged questions from the Pakistani press about Blackwater’s rumored Pakistani operations. Pakistan’s interior minister, Rehman Malik, said on November 21 he will resign if Blackwater is found operating anywhere in Pakistan.
The Christian Science Monitor recently reported that Blackwater “provides security for a US-backed aid project” in Peshawar, suggesting the company may be based out of the Pearl Continental, a luxury hotel the United States reportedly is considering purchasing to use as a consulate in the city. “We have no contracts in Pakistan,” Blackwater spokesperson Stacey DeLuke said recently. “We’ve been blamed for all that has gone wrong in Peshawar, none of which is true, since we have absolutely no presence there.”
Reports of Blackwater’s alleged presence in Karachi and elsewhere in the country have been floating around the Pakistani press for months. Hamid Mir, a prominent Pakistani journalist who rose to fame after his 1997 interview with Osama bin Laden, claimed in a recent interview that Blackwater is in Karachi. “The US [intelligence] agencies think that a number of Al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders are hiding in Karachi and Peshawar,” he said. “That is why [Blackwater] agents are operating in these two cities.” Ambassador Patterson has said that the claims of Mir and other Pakistani journalists are “wildly incorrect,” saying they had compromised the security of US personnel in Pakistan. On November 20 the Washington Times, citing three current and former US intelligence officials, reported that Mullah Mohammed Omar, the leader of the Afghan Taliban, has “found refuge from potential U.S. attacks” in Karachi “with the assistance of Pakistan’s intelligence service.”
In September, the Pakistani press covered a report on Blackwater allegedly submitted by Pakistan’s intelligence agencies to the federal interior ministry. In the report, the intelligence agencies reportedly allege that Blackwater was provided houses by a federal minister who is also helping them clear shipments of weapons and vehicles through Karachi’s Port Qasim on the coast of the Arabian Sea. The military intelligence source did not confirm this but did say, “The port jives because they have a lot of [former] SEALs and they would revert to what they know: the ocean, instead of flying stuff in.”
The Nation cannot independently confirm these allegations and has not seen the Pakistani intelligence report. But according to Pakistani press coverage, the intelligence report also said Blackwater has acquired “bungalows” in the Defense Housing Authority in the city. According to the DHA website, it is a large residential estate originally established “for the welfare of the serving and retired officers of the Armed Forces of Pakistan.” Its motto is: “Home for Defenders.” The report alleges Blackwater is receiving help from local government officials in Karachi and is using vehicles with license plates traditionally assigned to members of the national and provincial assemblies, meaning local law enforcement will not stop them.
The use of private companies like Blackwater for sensitive operations such as drone strikes or other covert work undoubtedly comes with the benefit of plausible deniability that places an additional barrier in an already deeply flawed system of accountability. When things go wrong, it’s the contractors’ fault, not the government’s. But the widespread use of contractors also raises serious legal questions, particularly when they are a part of lethal, covert actions. “We are using contractors for things that in the past might have been considered to be a violation of the Geneva Convention,” said Lt. Col. Addicott, who now runs the Center for Terrorism Law at St. Mary’s University School of Law in San Antonio, Texas. “In my opinion, we have pressed the envelope to the breaking limit, and it’s almost a fiction that these guys are not in offensive military operations.” Addicott added, “If we were subjected to the International Criminal Court, some of these guys could easily be picked up, charged with war crimes and put on trial. That’s one of the reasons we’re not members of the International Criminal Court.”
If there is one quality that has defined Blackwater over the past decade, it is the ability to survive against the odds while simultaneously reinventing and rebranding itself. That is most evident in Afghanistan, where the company continues to work for the US military, the CIA and the State Department despite intense criticism and almost weekly scandals. Blackwater’s alleged Pakistan operations, said the military intelligence source, are indicative of its new frontier. “Having learned its lessons after the private security contracting fiasco in Iraq, Blackwater has shifted its operational focus to two venues: protecting things that are in danger and anticipating other places we’re going to go as a nation that are dangerous,” he said. “It’s as simple as that.”
Why the Afghan Surge Will Fail November 13, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Iraq and Afghanistan, War.
Tags: afghan army, Afghanistan, afghanistan army, afghanistan occupation, afghanistan surge, afghanistan troops, Afghanistan War, colin hallinan, counterinsurgency, dananeh, mcchrystal, roger hollander, Taliban, taliban guerrillas
1 comment so far
by Conn Hallinan
Before the Obama administration buys into General Stanley McChrystal’s escalation strategy, it might spend some time examining the August 12 battle of Dananeh, a scruffy little town of 2,000 perched at the entrance to the Naw Zad Valley in Afghanistan’s southern Helmand province.
Dananeh is a textbook example of why counterinsurgency won’t work in that country, as well as a case study in military thinking straight out of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland.
According to the United States, the purpose of the attack was to seize a “strategic” town, cut “Taliban supply lines,” and secure the area for the presidential elections. Taking Dananeh would also “outflank the insurgents,” “isolating” them in the surrounding mountains and forests.
What is wrong with this scenario?
One, the concept of a “strategic” town of 2,000 people in a vast country filled with tens of thousands of villages like Dananeh is bizarre.
Two, the Taliban don’t have “flanks.” They are a fluid, irregular force, not an infantry company dug into a set position. “Flanking” an enemy is what you did to the Wehrmacht in World War II.
Three, “Taliban supply lines” are not highways and rail intersections. They’re goat trails.
Four, “isolate” the Taliban in the surrounding mountains and forests? Obviously, no one in the Pentagon has ever read the story of Brer Rabbit, who taunted his adversary with the famous words, “Please don’t throw me in the briar patch, Brer Fox.” Mountains and forests are where the Taliban move freely.
The Taliban were also not the slightest bit surprised when the United States showed up. When the Marines helicoptered in at night, all was quiet. At dawn – the Taliban have no night-fighting equipment – the insurgents opened up with rockets, mortars, and machine guns. “I am pretty sure they knew of it [the attack] in advance,” Golf Company commander Captain Zachary Martin told the Associated Press.
Pinned down, the Marines brought in air power and artillery and, after four days of fierce fighting, took the town. But the Taliban had decamped on the third night. The outcome? A chewed-up town and 12 dead insurgents – that is, if you don’t see a difference between an “insurgent” and a villager who didn’t get out in time, so that all the dead are automatically members of the Taliban.
“I’d say we’ve gained a foothold for now, and it’s a substantial one that we’re not going to let go,” says Martin. “I think this has the potential to be a watershed.”
Only if hallucinations become the order of the day.
The battle of Dananeh was a classic example of irregular warfare. The locals tip off the guerrillas that the army is coming. The Taliban set up an ambush, fight until the heavy firepower comes in, then slip away.
“Taliban fighters and their commanders have escaped the Marines’ big offensive into Afghanistan’s Helmand province and moved into areas to the west and north, prompting fears that the U.S. effort has just moved the Taliban problem elsewhere,” writes Nancy Youssef of the McClatchy newspapers.
When the Taliban went north they attacked German and Italian troops.
In short, the insurgency is adjusting. “To many of the Americans, it appeared as if the insurgents had attended something akin to the U.S. Army’s Ranger school, which teaches soldiers how to fight in small groups in austere environments,” writes Karen DeYoung in The Washington Post.
Actually, the Afghans have been doing that for some time, as Greeks, Mongols, British, and Russians discovered.
One Pentagon officer told the Post that the Taliban has been using the Korengal Valley that borders Pakistan as a training ground. It’s “a perfect lab to vet fighters and study U.S. tactics,” he said, and to learn how to gauge the response time for U.S. artillery, air strikes, and helicopter assaults. “They know exactly how long it takes before…they have to break contact and pull back.”
Just like they did at Dananeh.
General McChrystal has asked for 40,000 new troops in order to hold the “major” cities and secure the population from the Taliban. But even by its own standards, the plan is deeply flawed. The military’s Counterinsurgency Field Manual recommends a ratio of 20 soldiers for every 1,000 residents. Since Afghanistan has a population of slightly over 32 million, that would require a force of 660,000 soldiers.
The United States will shortly have 68,000 troops in Afghanistan, plus a stealth surge of 13,000 support troops. If the Pentagon sends 40,000 additional troops, U.S. forces will rise to 121,000. Added to that are 35,000 NATO troops, though most alliance members are under increasing domestic pressure to withdraw their soldiers. McChrystal wants to expand the Afghan army to 240,000, and there is talk of trying to reach 340,000.
Even with the larger Afghan army, the counterinsurgency plan is 150,000 soldiers short.
An Afghan Army?
And can you really count on the Afghan army? It doesn’t have the officers and sergeants to command 340,000 troops. And the counterinsurgency formula calls for “trained” troops, not just armed boots on the ground. According to a recent review, up to 25% of recruits quit each year, and the number of trained units has actually declined over the past six months.
On top of this, Afghanistan doesn’t really have a national army. If Pashtun soldiers are deployed in the Tajik-speaking north, they will be seen as occupiers, and vice-versa for Tajiks in Pashtun areas. If both groups are deployed in their home territories, the pressures of kinship will almost certainly overwhelm any allegiance to a national government, particularly one as corrupt and unpopular as the current Karzai regime.
And by defending the cities, exactly whom will U.S. troops be protecting? When it comes to Afghanistan, “major” population centers are almost a contradiction in terms. There are essentially five cities in the country, Kabul (2.5 million), Kandahar (331,000), Mazar-e-Sharif (200,000), Herat (272,000), and Jalalabad (20,000). Those five cities make up a little more than 10% of the population, over half of which is centered in Kabul. The rest of the population is rural, living in towns of 1,500 or fewer, smaller even than Dananeh.
But spreading the troops into small firebases makes them extremely vulnerable, as the United States found out in early September, when eight soldiers were killed in an attack on a small unit in the Kamdesh district of Nuristan province. The base was abandoned a week later and, according to the Asia Times, is now controlled by the Taliban.
While McChrystal says he wants to get the troops out of “armored vehicles” and into the streets with the people, the United States will have to use patrols to maintain a presence outside of the cities. On occasion, that can get almost comedic. Take the convoy of Stryker light tanks that set out on October 12 from “Forward Operating Base Spin Boldak” in Khandar province for what was described as a “high-risk mission into uncharted territory.”
The convoy was led by the new Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles designed to resist the insurgent’s weapon-of-choice in Afghanistan, roadside bombs. But the MRAP was designed for Iraq, which has lots of good roads. Since Afghanistan has virtually no roads, the MRAPs broke down. Without the MRAPs the Strykers could not move. The “high-risk” mission ended up hunkering down in the desert for the night and slogging home in the morning. They never saw an insurgent.
Afterwards, Sergeant John Belajac remarked, “I can’t imagine what it is going to be like when it starts raining.”
If you are looking for an Afghanistan War metaphor, the Spin Boldak convoy may be it.
McChrystal argues that the current situation is “critical,” and that an escalation “will be decisive.” But as former Defense Intelligence Agency analyst A.J. Rossmiller says, the war is a stalemate. “The insurgency does not have the capability to defeat U.S. forces or depose Afghanistan’s central government, and…U.S. forces do not the ability to vanquish the insurgency.” While the purported goal of the war is denying al-Qaeda a sanctuary, according to U.S. intelligence the organization has fewer than 100 fighters in the country. And further, the Taliban’s leader, Mullah Omar, pledges that his organization will not interfere with Afghanistan’s neighbors or the West, which suggests that the insurgents have been learning about diplomacy as well.
The Afghanistan War can only be solved by sitting all the parties down and working out a political settlement. Since the Taliban have already made a seven-point peace proposal, that hardly seems an insurmountable task.
Anything else is a dangerous illusion.
Conn Hallinan is a Foreign Policy In Focus columnist.
Our Corrupt Occupation of Afghanistan November 13, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Iraq and Afghanistan, War.
Tags: Afghanistan, afghanistan advisors, afghanistan al qaeda, afghanistan corruption, afghanistan occupation, Afghanistan War, afghnaistan government, al-Qaeda, foreign policy, kandahar, mcchrystal, mullah mohammed omar, robert naiman, roger hollander
add a comment
by Robert Naiman
Is it just me, or is the pontification of Western leaders about corruption in Afghanistan growing rather tiresome?
There is something very Captain Renault about it. We’re shocked, shocked that the Afghans have sullied our morally immaculate occupation of their country with their dirty corruption. How ungrateful can they be?
But perhaps we should consider the possibility that our occupation of the country is not so morally immaculate – indeed, that the most corrupt racket going in Afghanistan today is the American occupation.
US military officials in Kabul estimate that a minimum of 10 percent of the Pentagon’s logistics contracts in Afghanistan consists of protection payments to insurgents, Aram Roston reports in The Nation. In southern Afghanistan – where General McChrystal wants to send more troops – security firms can’t physically protect convoys of American military supplies. There’s no practical way to move the supplies without paying the Taliban. So, like Milo Minderbinder in Catch-22, we’re supplying both sides of the war.
Meanwhile, two-thirds of the nearly $30 billion in international aid to Afghanistan has been routed through foreign consultants, companies, and organizations hired by the US government and its allies, Farah Stockman reports in the Boston Globe. Afghan officials complain that American civilian advisers are often overpaid, underqualified, and unfamiliar with the culture of the country. A typical US adviser earns about $500 per day – several times what the average Afghan earns in a month, Stockman notes. That’s about $125,000 a year – not a bad chunk of change, even by U.S. standards. It’s more than the household income of about 85% of American families. The total cost of such an adviser, including security and accommodations (note that most people – in Afghanistan, like the U.S. – have to pay for their own accommodations out of their salaries or wages) is about $500,000 a year.
The Afghan government now has a program to hire its own advisers from friendly Muslim countries like Turkey and the UAE. The US supports this program with a $30 million dollar contribution. But that contribution represents 1.1% of the $2.7 billion that the US plans to spend on economic assistance to Afghanistan next year, the vast majority of which will be used to hire US contractors. So for every dollar we spend on paying Americans contractors, we spend a penny on a much cheaper program that allows Afghanistan to hire people who know the culture, speak the language, have more expertise, and can move around Afghanistan with less security because they aren’t Americans.
What do you call that? Afghans call it corruption. As Diogenes might say, the big thieves are giving lectures to the little thieves.
Now consider an Afghan policeman making $120 a month – half the cost of supporting a family, Western officials concede – who sees all this going on. Do you think that guy might take a bribe? Berholt Brecht wrote, in Marc Blitzstein’s translation: “First feed the face, and then tell right from wrong: for even saintly folk may act like sinners, unless they’ve had their customary dinners.” But in practice, our aid bureaucracy in Afghanistan has not yet won this most trivial insight.
But the biggest corruption of all is the occupation itself, because it is all based on a big lie: the claim that our continued occupation of Afghanistan is justified by the threat of an Al Qaeda “haven” in Afghanistan. This is a lie because: 1) as former counter-terrorism official Paul Pillar has pointed out, “the case has not been made” that “such a haven would significantly increase the terrorist danger to the United States” and 2) Mullah Mohammed Omar’s “Quetta Shura” Taliban have been signalling for months that they are done with Al Qaeda and there has been no U.S. response. McChrystal wants reinforcements to go to Kandahar. That’s Mullah Omar’s home turf. If McChrystal is given troops to go to Kandahar, then it’s not about Al Qaeda.
Robert Naiman is Policy Director at Just Foreign Policy